POLITICS

After legislation fails, Puerto Rico's governor bans plastic bags in executive order

LONDON - MARCH 03:  Plastic bags of rubbish discarded on a walkway near Regent's Canal on February 29, 2008 in London, England. The Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stated that he will force retailers to help reduce the use of plastic bags if they do not do so voluntarily.  (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

LONDON - MARCH 03: Plastic bags of rubbish discarded on a walkway near Regent's Canal on February 29, 2008 in London, England. The Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stated that he will force retailers to help reduce the use of plastic bags if they do not do so voluntarily. (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)  (2008 Getty Images)

Puerto Rico's governor signed an executive order on Friday banning the use of plastic bags across the U.S. territory, defying legislators who just days ago rejected a similar bill.

The ban will take effect in mid-2016 and will be preceded by a six-month educational campaign, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said.

The announcement surprised many because 25 legislators in the island's House of Representatives recently voted against a measure calling for such a ban. Lawmakers had said they opposed the bill because it would charge people for the use of plastic bags amid an economic crisis.

García said grocery stores across Puerto Rico import tons of plastic bags a year, noting that one small supermarket chain alone annually imports bags that fit in six boxcars that are 42 feet (13 meters) long.

"All that ends up in landfills in the best-case scenario," he said. "They end up on our streets, in our sewage system ... and kill our turtles and coral reefs."

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The popular western tourist town of Rincon is the only Puerto Rican municipality that currently bans the use of plastic bags.

Environmental activists praised the move, noting that it is common to double-bag all groceries on the island, no matter how small the purchase. García said he would push for legislation to be approved to help bolster his executive order.

Elsewhere in the U.S., plastic bag bans have been implemented in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Austin, Texas. In addition, all counties in Hawaii have approved such a prohibition. There is currently no statewide ban on plastic bags, although California is placing the issue before voters in a November 2016 ballot.

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